February 21, 2022

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by: admin

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Tags: Columns, deserves, education, Guest, respect, special

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Categories: Special needs education

Particular wants training deserves our respect | Visitor Columns

As communities around the world commemorated UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities Dec. 6, I couldn’t help but think about the taboo that special needs – particularly when it comes to education – continues to carry in our society. It’s difficult to rationalize that, while America dedicates a significant amount of resources to treating and addressing disabilities, we’ve invested comparatively little in developing educational curricula tailored to the needs of children with these conditions.

Kids of all abilities need educational opportunities that help them learn and grow. It was with this in mind that I chose to earn a degree in special education, with a focus on autism spectrum disorder, at Cleveland State University. After graduating, I wanted to pursue my professional passion while realizing my dream of living in Israel.

After some searching, I came across an innovative program, Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, hosted by Masa Israel Journey that sends young adults to Israel to teach English. I was accepted into the program and soon assigned to a post in Jerusalem. My background in education has helped me immensely as I’ve worked to help my students achieve their English language goals.

While I have not been assigned to a special needs classroom in Israel, my experience navigating the cultural and language barrier with my students has illuminated for me new ways to engage special needs learners upon my return to the United States. This is because kids, no matter their background or needs, are still just kids. They want to play, learn, joke around, make new friends, etc. They’re all learning who they are, and that education never stops.

And this goes beyond children. Adults are also pretty much the same wherever you go. I’ve been hosted by so many kind people, I have an amazing roommate, and I have been embraced by the community in Israel – making it feel a little more like home. My experience has been even better than I could have imagined. While the cultures are different and there’s been a lot to learn, my eyes have been opened and I see that people at their core are closer than you might imagine.

Since I don’t speak Hebrew and many of my students don’t speak English, we sometimes experience situations in the classroom in which one party is at a disadvantage. Far too often, nuanced expressions get lost in translation. Yet, this hardly ever derails our class discussions and lessons. I’ve learned to prioritize patience and understanding, regardless of my students’ needs. I’ve learned to avoid teaching each class as a monolith. Every student must be treated like an individual, with unique needs and interests, because, well, they are.

This same principle can be applied to special needs classrooms, because not every student has the same capability in every subject.

Sometimes, we get in the habit of talking about special needs of students as different from the rest of the population. The reality is, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2019 and 2020, 7.3 million students received special education services. That’s 14% of all public education students. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, 60% of adults with severe literacy problems have undetected or untreated learning disabilities, so this isn’t an issue that ends when we leave school.

Growing up with a brother who has autism, I’m familiar with the misconceptions people have about educational disabilities. I know that students with learning abilities are bright, amazing kids – just like anyone else. They work hard to learn new things, they want to have accomplishments without having to be assisted by anyone, and while their needs are special, they don’t want to be treated any differently. Their strength and persistence make it that much more exciting when they accomplish their goals.

Crossing the language barrier in Israel, I see the same struggles and triumphs I’ve always seen – both growing up, in my education and in my experience. We’re all operating with different skills and weaknesses. Some just face struggles that are harder than others. But we all deserve the same respect.

Romy (Shoshana) Larson is a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow from North Olmsted and lives in Jerusalem.

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